Why Ethics is So Important in Engineering

Ethics engineer

The job of an engineer involves building and improving things by coming up with new and improved solutions to complicated problems. Engineers are behind creating new methods of transportation, new ways to generate energy, and building communications networks that span the world. Engineers tend to be held to very high standards with the work that they do - typically higher than many other careers simply because of the impact that they have on society. However, engineers are also held to strict ethical standards in order to ensure that the work that they do doesn’t cause harm to others or destroy public trust. Engineers are a crucial part of how the world works. They build computers that hold important data from governments, medical institutions, and schools, and create systems that guide planes, trains, and other forms of transport. Because of the huge impact that much of this work has on the world, it should always be approached with ethics at the forefront.

How Ethics Relate to Engineering:

The study of ethics goes back centuries, but arguably, it has been a crucial part of human life since language first began. Ethics revolves around morality; the concept of good and evil. Mostly, the study of ethics has focused on how to live a good life. Most of our own ethical beliefs come from the culture or religion that we were brought up in. Ethics can be varied from place to place and between different individuals. However, when applied to the engineering industry, ethics can be quite a straightforward process; it is mainly concerned with honesty and safety. Safety is particularly important since one small mistake could lead to serious damage or harm.

Engineering and the Impact on Safety:

Whatever discipline engineers work in, their work is likely to have some impact on the everyday lives of civilians. All engineers need to be acutely aware of this and ensure that they are striving to work to the best of their abilities and holding themselves to the highest possible standards. A solid understanding of, and appreciation for, ethics reinforces this and ensures that engineers do their work in a way that is both professional and moral. After all, poor work in engineering could quite literally ruin lives.

Better Decision Making:

Ethics in engineering allows both engineers and engineering managers to make better decisions and push back against bad decisions. In large companies, ethics can often be forgotten about in order to increase profits, and this decision tends to come from those at the top rather than the engineers and engineering managers who are working in the trenches on the projects. Since many engineers and engineering managers work for large companies with big budgets, the question of ethics should be raised as early on as possible in their careers. Engineers who embrace and celebrate ethics as a key part of engineering culture create an environment where decisions that raise ethical concerns can be questioned. Click here to learn more about ethics in engineering management.

Setting Professional Standards:

Another reason why having a code of ethics for engineering is so important is that it sets a high standard for professional behavior. Engineers can expect each other to always behave with honesty and integrity when they are adhering to the same behavioral and ethical standards in their chosen profession. And, it creates a level of trust with the public who are reassured that engineers always have their safety and best interests in mind no matter the project that they are working on. This standard of professional behavior provides everybody working in engineering with a solid foundation of trust.

Leadership:

Engineers looking to move up the career ladder into management and leadership positions need to not only adhere to ethical principles themselves but ensure that their teams are doing the same. Ethics in engineering gives managers standards to not only hold themselves to but make sure that their teams are meeting too. It provides a framework to use for every single project to ensure that the work is done in a manner that is safe, based on honesty and integrity, and with the end users best interests in mind. Whether an engineering manager is leading a project to construct a new building, develop new software, or set up water systems in underdeveloped areas, a code of ethics to adhere to ensures that they can quickly spot if any team members are cutting corners and deal with any issues that arise quickly and efficiently.

Whistle-Blowing:

Engineers have no excuse to let mistakes slide or allow faulty projects to go through simply because they were following orders. The code of ethics holds engineers to higher standards than this, and all engineers are expected to uphold their duty to report any faulty engineering work or mistakes that they have become aware of. If organizations are unwilling to take the necessary steps to deal with the problem before it potentially becomes a risk to the public, engineers have a duty to be whistle-blowers and report the organization to the relevant authorities.

Avoiding Structural Failures:

Since the Industrial Revolution, engineering has grown in importance as a profession. And, since large-scale engineering projects are now dominating figures in the landscape of most countries, engineers must follow a strict ethical code in order to avoid potentially devastating structural failures. This was proven by catastrophic events such as the failure of the Quebec Bridge in 1907 in which many people sadly lost their lives. Events such as these only highlighted the importance for engineers to abide by strict ethical standards at every stage of a project.

Promoting Ethics in Engineering:

Along with a culture of ethics amongst engineers at every level, many different engineering societies and professional associations also work to promote ethical concerns within the field and will usually provide a strict code of ethics that they expect all members to adhere to. Any engineer who is a member of a professional engineering association risks being expelled if they are found to be violating the ethical code. 

In order for engineers to ensure that the work they produce is safe and reputable, ethics should be upheld at all times.